Web-Based Consumer Health Information: Public Access, Digital Division, and Remainders

Daniel Lorence, PhD, JD; Heeyoung Park, MHA, MS

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In This Article

Introduction

In the digital age, health information is a resource that is necessary for "staying well, preventing and managing disease, and making other decisions related to health and health care.[1]" It provides the rationale for guiding appropriate health behaviors, treatments, and decisions. As such, growing numbers of consumers are connecting to the Internet to seek health information. Although the diversity of online health information seekers is high and continuously increasing, estimates of both number and diversity of such groups vary widely.[2,3,4] Several studies have demonstrated that the use of the Internet in healthcare offers a number of potential benefits, including improved equity in access to health information, effective dissemination of new information, enhanced communication, and shared decision making between patients and physicians.[5,6,7,8,9] Given this increasing diversity of online health information seekers and the great potential of the Internet as an effective health communication channel and information resource, it still remains unclear, however, whether all groups are afforded the opportunity to participate.

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